Monday, February 9, 2009

The Masters-Hedrich Blessing
Whenever I teach my architectural photography class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with historian Tim Wittman, we take the students on a field trip to visit the offices of Hedrich Blessing. For architectural photographers it is like a pilgrimage to Mecca. For 75+ years Hedrich Blessing has defined the cutting edge of architectural photography. It is always interesting to see where they are at technologically. In August of 2005 I wrote the following report after our visit on the Large Format Forum:

Hedrich Blesing in Chicago has been at the leading edge of commercial architectural photography for 80 years. They are a great bell weather of real changes in the genre as they are conservative technically and don't follow fads. Every year I take my arch. photo class from the Art Institute on a fields trip to Hedrich Blesssing and use the trip to see how they are responding to the digital developements. This year an extraordinary young photographer, Jeff Millies, gave us the tour and showed us his work. This is where they are at:

Overwhelmingly they are shooting 4x5 trans. film, primarily Kodak EPN and Velvia and swear that as long as film is being made they will shoot it.

But everything is being scanned on Imacons and delivered as film or with scans and digital contact prints. The traditional printing darkrooms and C print processors are idle. Most of their clients don't know what to do with film anymore. They need digital files. The magazines and book publishers still want original film usually. Film is sent out to a lab. Their famous retouching is being done on original trans. when needed but primarily on scans via Photoshop.

A very few down and dirty or low budget jobs are being shot with digital capture, exclusively on the high end Canons with PC lenses. They use these for scouting shots too.

They are building a new facility out of the Loop where they will have better access which and will eliminate the traditional darkrooms in favor of computer work stations.

They are always very gracious and sharing. They have the confidence of artists who are at the top of their game and not worried about competition. We will try and get them to present at the View Camera Conference in Chicago next year.

Their digital evolution is about what I expected. Two years ago they started scanning film for particular clients who requested it and now everything is scanned.
In June 2007 I wrote this report:
Yearly update.....
I took my architectural photography class at the Art Institute of Chicago to Hedrich-Blessing again this year. If you are unaware, Hedrich-Blessing is an architectural photography firm in Chicago that goes back to the 20's. They have 8 full time photographers that travel the world and with probably twice that number in support staff. Almost anyone who put together a list of the top ten APs in this country would include 4-6 of these guys. I have been taking my class there for the last 8 years. They are real gentlemen, very sharing and thorough going professionals. They are at the very top echelon of their field and the bell weather of where the field is going as they are very conservative technically and do not follow fads. I really appreciate the time they take out of their busy schedules to talk to my students.


They are still shooting 70-80% film, Kodak EPN and Fuji 160 Pro S. Digital is Phase One backs and Canons. They are not thrilled by the digital cameras/lenses available for use right now for AP. All film is scanned. In their new building (a superb fascility built specifically for them), there are no wet darkrooms at all, just Imacon scanners and inkjet printers. They have grave concerns about the future of the films and Polaroid they depend on and as a result are following industry developments closely.

Advice to my students from the managing partner.........(if you knew these guys you would know what a radical statement this is for them)........"I wouldn't spend much time learning traditional film based architectural photography techniques."
That was 1 1/2 years ago. I wonder where they are at technologically now?

Twice I have had to photograph the same building as Nick Merrick of Hedrich Blessing. Once I had to do some additional photography on a bank that he had previously photographed and once it was the other way around. In both cases I found his creativity and technical mastery a real humbling educational experience.

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